Bread is considered to be one the staples of life, but it is also a deeply symbolic food for both Christians and Jews. The Bible is replete with references to bread, showing its deep significance as a means of sustenance and also a conduit with which to praise God.

It is first mentioned in Genesis 3, after the incident of both Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Of the many punishments that befell them because of their recklessness was that God specifically tells them, “by the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground – for from it you were taken.” It seems clear then that mankind was intended to toil for its survival – God would not be providing everything.

Several chapters later in Genesis, Abraham, iconoclast and father of monotheism, beseeched his wife, Sara, to quickly make bread to give to the three visitors – later identified as angels – when they approached their tent. Bread, then, is also a sign of hospitality. When we break bread with people – family, friends or even strangers -- we are inviting them into our homes in peace.

One of the most famous and important breads in all of the Bible is central to Judaism and its long journey from slavery to freedom. Matzah – unleavened bread – is what the Jews ate when they were fleeing for their lives from their Egyptian pursuers. God told Moses that he would lead the slaves – shortly to become known as the Children of Israel – out from under Pharaoh’s despotic grip. The Israelites were told to prepare to leave quickly but to take food for the way. The rapidity of their flight did not permit them to make the bread that they usually ate, so a simple mixture of flour and water and a much shorter baking time would have to suffice. The result is that more than 3,000 years later, Jewish families still gather around their Passover Seder tables to recount the story of the Exodus and eat unleavened bread.

During the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert, they were sustained by manna from heaven – as they did not settle in one place long enough to grow the necessary plants for food. There is healthy debate about exactly what form manna took, but the fact that the Jews were commanded to collect two portions of by sundown before the Sabbath is important. That is commemorated today by the presence of two challot – loaves of bread – on Jewish dinner tables across the globe as they celebrate the Sabbath.

In Christian scripture, bread is also crucially important. Even before Jesus’ death bread is associated with miracles that he performed and kindnesses that he enacted. In the Gospel According to John, Jesus defines himself as the bread of life, a metaphor for sure, but one that was easily recognizable and understandable: "Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Bread is also associated with Jesus’ miracles, such as the feeding of the multitudes. The first miracle – reported by all four gospels – relates to the feeding of the 5,000 and is also known as the “miracle of the five loaves and two fish.” The Gospel of John reports that five barley loaves and two small fish supplied by a boy were used by Jesus to feed the multitude. Jesus had sought quiet contemplation having heard the news about the execution of John the Baptist, but when he saw the large crowd, he had compassion for them. After taking the loaves and the fishes, giving thanks and then breaking them, there was enough to eat to satisfy all who had come to be with Jesus.

Author's Bio: 

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to promote understanding between Christians and Jews, and build support for Israel. Learn more about the IFCJ here:
The IFCJ was founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, a leading advocate of religious freedom who has dedicated his work to building bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews. Learn more about Rabbi Eckstein here: